Shot Of Rhythm

[ Saturday, August 26, 2006 ]


He's the type of guy...

Who doesn't love LL Cool J? Hip-hop's most consistently popular star, creator of a whole bunch of classic tracks, and living proof that you can be a romantic and a hard-ass at the same time. Here are four of LL's best, from his Def Jam heyday.

"Around The Way Girl"

"I'm The Type Of Guy"

"I Need Love"

"Mama Said Knock You Out"

Back tuesday with some thoughts on the new Dylan.

On the box right now: OutKast, IDLEWILD.


Dove With Claws [3:06 PM]

[ Tuesday, August 22, 2006 ]


When the new world is revealed

Every time Outkast has released an album, it's been one of the best and most interesting records of that year. IDLEWILD is no exception to either. A sprawling, messy piece of genius, IDLEWILD is going to take a long time to fully comprehend or appreciate, but it's immediate pleasures are intense enough to make the task more than worthwhile. Andre 3000 and Big Boi are now assuredly the Lennon/McCartney (or Davis/Coltrane) of hip-hop, composers (and I don't use the term lightly) capable of re-interpreting and re-imagining the nature and potential of pop music in ways that will reverberate for decades.

Musically intricate and endlessly interesting, the songs on IDLEWILD are particularly notable for their use of the entirety of the black musical tradition, even broader than 'Kast's usual genre-blending mixtures. 3000 plays acoustic blues/gospel on "Idlewild Blue," shouting out the blues' universality ("Even babies get the blues") and existential reality ("I'm fine...that's what I tell them, but I'm lyin'), all around a percolating groove that flows somewhere between "Wade In The Water" and "Wang Dang Doodle." "Morris Brown," the other debut single, is Big Boi fully cementing his reputation as hip-hop's P-Funk ambassador of jazz/funk alchemy: there are no less than four workable hooks in "Morris Brown," played consecutively and with no seeming segue. Hidden within IDLEWILD's deep grooves are the sounds of the rich, complicated African-American musical tradition, all soaked with the spirit of reinvention that has defined that tradition.

This connection with tradition makes OutKast's prevalent use of sounds from the swing era, along with their usual heavy doses of P-Funk and Prince, particularly striking. Recalling the freshness and opportunity (both musical and social) represented by the swing of the Jazz Age, the experimentation of P-Funk's Black Power gospel, and Prince's virtuosic priesthood, OutKast's latest work is an encapsulation of the restless creative spirit evident in all their source material. Even as the duo themselves appear closer and closer to separating for good, their body of work - including this important new addition - affirms that, wherever they personally or the music more generally goes next - they are prepared to continue giving us new possibilities and new ideas. They are, simply, visionary. And they're the best American musicians of the past decade.

I've chosen to spotlight four tracks that I haven't previously posted. (The three I put up before, "Idlewild Blue," "Morris Brown," and the Cab Calloway-based "Mighty O," are all readily available as singles.) Instead, I wanted to go with four tracks that, in different ways, more fully illuminate this big, complex story.

-It's tempting to hear "The Train" simply as Big Boi's break-up song, a goodbye to OutKast's previous glories that makes its wistful sonic melancholy sound achingly personal. I also, though, hear the determination of soul music (not to mention its deeply-felt musical textures) throughout this dynamically clever piece of music. This is strengthened, of course, by Sleepy Brown's beautifully-sung hook. I also think that this track makes an important point: even though Andre 3000's work has (rightly) been celebrated for its imaginative eclecticism, I find Big Boi's musical genius to be equal, if not superior, to his more iconoclastic partner.

"The Train"

-"Buggface" is another Big Boi showcase, this time a pure P-Funk homage, complete with his own Brides of Funkenstein offering insistent vocal response on the chorus. Big Boi's flow remains unstoppable, and - just like any good P-Funk release - I have absolutely no idea what it's about, but I'll be singing the chorus in my sleep.


-I'm tempted to call IDLEWILD Big Boi's masterpiece, since a majority of my current favorite tracks are driven by Mr. Patton. Still, Andre 3000 hasn't gone anywhere, and - if the sparking "PJ and Rooster" is any indication - his further explorations will remain rewarding. Wonderfully constructed, from the pulsing horn charts to the percolating groove, the swing-driven track somehow gets to the core of what makes swing-era jazz so important, without sounding at all retro or redundant. It also makes a great complement to Christina Aguilera's "Candyman," which similarly looks to swing for its sonic foundation and overall tone. In addition, and importantly, "PJ and Rooster" makes me want to see the IDLEWILD movie more than any other track on the record.

"PJ and Rooster"

-Hidden away near the end of the record is this startling track, "Mutron Angel," sung by Whild Peach. Peach's aching performance, and the spacey backgrounds, make this sound like a collaboration between Mahalia Jackson and Prince, and the gospel-inflected lyrics (including a poignant reference to an unnamed "hurricane in New Orleans" and the archetypal freedom-song statement about a "the thunderous voice shoutin' there will be no peace/Until our people rejoice, where every boy and girl is freed") place OutKast's underappreciated gospel foundations, observable on tracks from "Get Up, Get Out" to "Church," front and center. The Eddie Hazel-style guitar in the background puts Funkadelic back in the mix, and - quite inauspiciously - OutKast speaks directly to America's troubled soul.

"Mutron Angel"

Well done, Mr. Benjamin. Nice job, Mr. Patton. Let there be more music from the two of you. Much more...

On the box right now: OutKast, IDLEWILD.


Dove With Claws [7:12 PM]